Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Church on Christmas Day?!

It seems to be a phenomenon that churches, specifically protestant evangelical churches, in America do not have services on Christmas Day. If we are willing to stand up against those who refuse to say 'Merry Christmas' (insert Happy Holidays), then how can we justify not even celebrating together on Christmas Day?

I have been doing some searching online at quite a few church websites in America from the small to the mega and it seems to be a prevailing trend: service on Christmas Eve, no service on Christmas Day. I wonder, do we celebrate people's birthdays on the day before and do nothing on the day? What is the reason for this?

I pray this is not universally true. How many of you Nazarenes out there have a service on Christmas Day? If you don't, what are your reasons for not having one?


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chewing the Host

...or, Weirdest Discussion Thread. Ever.

Make sure you get to the second page to read this "tasty" (pun intended) comment:
most of the time it goes down fine without a chew but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.... short of choking

I remember as a child an old nun told me that chewing the host was "snapping the bones of Christ"

considering what happens to the host after you swallow it chewing is probably not an issue
And I thought some of our discussions (like Joseph's quandary about serving communion to someone with a feeding tube) got pretty "out there"...!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advent liturgy « Godspace

I thought you all would like this, it is actually a video clip!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advent Practices

With the season of Advent almost here, I was wondering what are some of your Advent practices? Do you use an Advent wreath, when do you start singing Christmas carols, when do you decorate the Church and what are some of your favorite Advent hymns? One thing I have done is to use the collect for the First Sunday of Advent from the BCP as a opening prayer each of the four Sundays of Advent.

"Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen"


Pastor Steven

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You might be a sacramental Nazarene if...

So, this might be fun...you know the drill. Finish the statement, Jeff Foxworthy-style.

Here's a few to get us started:

...you've thought about it enough to actually coin a term like "Nazcopalian."

...you've received stares, glares, reprimands and/or hate-mail for publicly crossing yourself before receiving the Lord's Supper.

...you think having candles in worship is more than worth cleaning up the wax drips afterward, thank you very much. (Pass the iron and the brown paper bags!)

...at your home at least one of the following can be found: a prayer book, a rosary, an icon, a baptized infant, any book by Alexander Schmemann, [insert your own 'dead giveaway' here].

...you've ever quoted John Wesley's "it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord's Supper as often as he [sic] can" to advocate increased celebration of said sacrament.

...you like/miss our hymnal, despite its lack of good eucharistic hymnody (which assumes, of course, that you've noticed this lack).

...you shudder at the thought of those little pre-packaged communion "kits" we use at General Assembly.

Okay, I could probably go on an on, but I'd better give others a chance. Your turn. Have fun (without being too cynical...)! :-)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Our Web Presence

So, this is totally FYI, but kind of interesting…the following are google/yahoo search terms that have led folks to this blog, and how far down the list we were on the search results:

"wesleyan communion liturgy" (1st hit)
"how often to take communion" (9th hit)
"high church methodist" (4th hit)
"why is communion only taken once a month" (27th hit)
"nazarene intinction" (6th hit)
"nazarene clericals" (1st hit)
"wesley’s eucharistic service" (10th hit)
"wesley infant baptism parris" (4th hit on Yahoo/12th hit on Google)

...and obviously:
"nazarenes for liturgical renewal" (1st hit)
"sacramental nazarenes" (1st hit)

I think it’s also kinda cool that we’re linked here...NYI is on to us!

I really should pay more attention to these things, I guess…

[update: just as an experiment, I did google'd "nazarene eucharist" and we were the 3rd and 4th hits...not so with "nazarene communion" - I guess terminology does matter!]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lectionary Anyone?

I have recently been involved in a Nazarene Church who are quite earnest about using the Common Lectionary for Sunday worship. This practice is increasing forming/shaping/ordering my life in particular and the life of our local congregation in general.

Simple question, but probably not a simple answer: Any Nazarenes using the lectionary out there? If so, any particular reasons why (aside from the obvious)? If not, any particular reasons why?

Peace be with you,

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Vestments, Clerical Collars, etc...your thoughts?

Amy posed this question in the comments of a previous post:
...what about the clergy collar? Are there any Nazarenes (especially women) who wear these? I find this to be both good and bad, and has anyone investigated the idea?
I was afraid her comment would be missed, and hence a good discussion forestalled. I would suggest extending the discussion to vestments, e.g. robes, stoles, etc. (I assume a Nazarene has yet to don a mitre...but who knows), as well as the use of liturgical (seasonal) colors in your worship spaces.

I also suggest sometime renting Federico Fellini's Roma and growing wide-eyed in shock and awe at his outrageous staging of a clerical fashion show...one of the more memorable scenes in european cinema, if you ask me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

David Foster Wallace on Worship

Several years ago, as I was adjusting to graduate school and life in Scotland, my buddy Brad Johnson first spoke the name David Foster Wallace to me. Unfortunately, with all the reading and research demands of my masters and then doctoral program, I never made time for Girl With Curious Hair or Infinite Jest - I confess I still haven't (in my defense, it's difficult to make time for the 1,100 pages of the latter novel). So I was actually surprised at my own sadness to learn of his recent suicide at age 46. Suicide is always a sad thing, of course, and as one who has in angst-ier, despairing moments considered ending my own life, I might be a smidge more empathetic toward the victims - because that is what they really are - of suicide, at least more so than your average evangelical Christian.

When news of Wallace's death reached me, I felt immediately compelled - like many, I suspect - to figure out just what, just how much, the world had lost. I watched his Charlie Rose Show interview on youtube, and observed this nervous, bespectacled guy who seems almost frustrated at his own mind's tendency to flit from philosophy to cinema to literature, allusion piled upon reference like an infinite version of the Kevin Bacon game, and I felt an immediate admiration toward him, and even perhaps a kinship, though limited by the fact that I do not possess a fraction of his brilliance as a thinker or as a writer. Wallace, at least in this interview, wears that whole "curse of genius" thing on his sleeve, not is a way that makes you think, "Man, what a jerk...doesn't even realize how gifted he is," but in a kind of postmodernist, self-reflexive way that really makes you feel almost sorry for him. Like, "Man, this guy is keenly aware of how alienated he is by his intellectual gift."

I moved on to some of his shorter prose essays, and marvelled at his style, his gift with language, and the prescience of his thinking. I liked him more when I discovered his fanaticism for film, especially the work of David Lynch. I felt a kind of sickening envy at the fact that, despite every potential and opportunity to become a great scholar in probably any number of fields, he ditched his in progress Harvard PhD and committed himself to writing novels, essays and journalistic pieces. I sometimes wonder how many aspiring academics feel a similar pull but finish their PhDs and enter an academic career out of sheer cowardice. (I sometimes wonder if I might be one of them.)

One of David Foster Wallace's most moving pieces of writing is a 2005 commencement address he delivered at Ohio's Kenyon College, which interestingly enough neighbors our own Mount Vernon Nazarene University (who, given the occasional profanity, would have never invited him to speak for such an occasion). The piece as a whole deserves the 15 or 20 minutes it might take you to read it, and then many more hours of contemplating it...such that I almost feel badly excerpting it. Wallace's self-awareness about the "commencement speech genre" is humorous. His passing comments about suicide are devastatingly sad in light of his own demise. His description of contemporary "adult life" is utterly dismal and yet his call to the graduates his filled with hope and the promise of a life of meaning and fulfilment even in the face of mind-numbing tedium. In a word (or two): read it.

But his reflections that immediately prompted me to compose this post were specifically on the subject of worship, which is of course the preoccupation of this weblog. His insights, though perhaps familiar to many of us who occasionally enter and dialogue in this ephemeral thinkspace, are expressed with the beauty of a wordsmith and the lucidity of a scholar, and yet, good postmodernist that he is, maintain the skeptical distance of one who stands outside all that might commonly be described as "worship." (In fact, I'm suspicious about whether N.T. Wright hasn't actually plagiarized Wallace in one passage of Surprised By Hope.) I'll leave you with his voice, now silenced, as any closing comment from me would be, by comparison, a paltry offering indeed.
"...if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship - be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles - is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom...The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Church of the Nazarene and "Liturgical Renewal"

Pastor Steven has asked a good question that has sparked a bit of conversation below. I'm not trying to short-circuit the conversation there, just to allow others who may have missed that conversation to join in.

His question is as follows: "Where do you see the CotN going in the future regarding liturgical renewal and the sacramental life?"

Many of you have added significant insights to our current status as a church body, and where you hope we might begin to move in our future together. Let me just briefly add my own two cents here (sorry to be late to the conversation, but I just got back from an interesting conference in Rome).

I don't know that I can speak authoritatively on either where the church as a whole currently is, or where it is going -- for a host of reasons, including that the numerical "majority" of Nazarenes resides outside the US -- but I can speak from within my own context, and I think we can all add where we hope the church might "go" in the future.

Here in Kansas City -- the supposed "center" of the CoN -- I see a couple of things happening. My own church, Trinity Church of the Nazarene, currently celebrates Eucharist every week, and is ordered somewhat loosely around aspects of a Book of Common Prayer liturgy (there are many aspects that are "free" and don't correspond exactly to an Anglican or episcopal liturgy). I don't see many other churches that practice similarly, however. The church my wife and I first attended, First Church of the Nazarene, seems to have dissolved its "Word and Table" service (though that church has been hurting, and is going through transition currently); other churches still distrust a weekly Eucharist as "mechanical." I think that on the whole, there is very little interest in "liturgical renewal" here save for from "the youth" (which would basically include the 30 or 35's and under)...and Trinity is made up of a great portion of NTS students. This is perhaps why "Jacob's Well," a non-denom church here in town that is organized and attended by a host of young folks, is such a popular place right now.

Two things.

(1) I think we have to be clear that our forms of worship must be allowed to be diverse, polyphonous, and thus allowed to vary from place to place (and especially from "culture" to culture)...this is extremely significant for a church like the CoN whose largest contingent is "international," and not essentially tied to the nationalistic American understandings of "church" -- no matter how much we attempt to pigeon-hole things to the contrary (an example of which would be a recent email sent out by a GS, to remain anonymous, to pastors essentially calling for the endorsement of McCain -- yes, liturgy influences our politics, just as politics influences our liturgy). And the necessity for diversity in worship is a very catholic element, actually, expressed quite clearly throughout various Christian traditions, and especially in so-called "orthodox" ones.

(2) There are certain elements of our gathered worship, our work, our liturgy, that are "essentials." Baptism, Eucharist, proclamation of the Word traditionally make up these essentials, themselves "instituted" by the living Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth the Christ. Nevertheless, we need a clear understanding of just why it is these are "essential." A strong divorce between theology and doxology must be seen to be the culprit of a "deficient" liturgy -- one which assumes it can bypass or supplement these "essentials."

I think that what really is lacking in our church today is a theological understanding that the church is itself sacramental (to use Edward Schillebeeckx's language, Christ is the sacrament of encounter with God, while the church is the sacrament of encounter with the risen Christ). The sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist are "essential" not simply because Christ "instituted" them -- because he "said so"; they are essential because it is through these means that we encounter the living God in our midst, that we are caught up in the event of the Spirit's gathering of the broken, dispersed body into a real, living unity under its head, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God.

So, when the Church of the Nazarene offers as a possible supplement to the sacrament of Baptism the "rite of dedication," or completely bypasses Baptism altogether through the means of "conversion," what is lost is not a "proper form," so much as the embodiment of theology as doxology (the only mode in which theology is truly Christian theology); and when the Church of the Nazarene offers the celebration of the Eucharist only once a month, or once a quarter, or in some places only once a year (yes these do still exist!!), what is lost is not truly an "episcopal" understanding of church as it is the failure to live into what really makes the church the church (as something that is always nourished from beyond itself). When we relinquish these modes of worship, we attempt to lock up the church as a possession to be attained (and one which we often assume we have already come into possession of), rather than a gift to be received and given away (since we are ourselves made gifts for the life of the world in the unifying work of Baptism and Eucharist, which happen as events around the proclamation of the Word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit). I would think that most Nazarenes would find this latter conclusion to be ironic, or something to be refuted. Well, let us refute it with our practices then; not with a unified "form," but in a living embodiment of God's Word which dispossesses us of all claims to being "right," and gives us away as bread and wine -- body and blood -- water and spirit -- towel and basin -- for the nourishment of the life of the world, which the Holy Spirit is making new.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Nazarene Roundtable: website evangelism

In case it interests any readers of this blog, I posted a few thoughts on website evangelism, which also turned into brief excursus on the respective "sinner's prayers" of two evangelical denominations (one being our own), over at Nazarene Roundtable, one of our Cohorts. Check it out.

I nearly opted to post it here, being about prayer and such, which is of course not unrelated to worship, liturgy and the sacramental life, but it seemed a bit too sprawling and unformed for this blog's particular focus. Still, I'd enjoy some of your thoughts on these matters.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Liturgy and the Arts" by Albert Rouet

I've just started reading this exceptional little book, which was recommended to me by theologian Philip Sheldrake (author of Spaces for the Sacred) at a conference about 2 years ago. It's one of those that might have slipped under the radar for many folks who might otherwise be very interested in it's content. I'd better not attempt anything like a review since I'm still reading it - although I really appreciate what I've read so far - but I thought I'd share a few highlights to whet some appetites...and perhaps provoke some dialogue.

This first quote is from translator Paul Philibert's introduction, and is (I assume) more summative of the work as a whole; the remaining quotes are Rouet himself:

"So another principle of Rouet's theology is that the arts are not for ornamentation, but for evocation. Their role is not to fabricate an alternative world alongside ordinary life, with all its burdens and ugliness, even though the beautiful can be a relief from the heaviness of daily tedium. Rather, the arts have as their role the disclosure of holiness within the ordinary...The function of the arts in the Christian life and in liturgy is to map out the location of God's presence and to detonate the sacramental potential of the world." (p. ix - emphasis added)
"Liturgy is the transformation of a people. It addresses itself to people within their culture and their circumstances. It is something for today." (p. 10)
"Movement toward conversion is the real object of liturgy. This is how it makes a people to become "a people," creates them as the people of God. The real question is not if this liturgy pleases you, nor even if you find it beautiful. The real question is whether the liturgical rites move people forward to walk with God and to move toward God." (p. 19)

This next quote reminds me of something Dr. Tim Green said in his recent Hicks' Holiness Series, delivered at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (very worthwhile - available as a podcast here). To sum up the first of the three sermons/lectures, Tim said that the beginning of holiness - which is the story of what God is and has always been doing in the lives of God's people - is to receive life as sheer gift.

"Worshipping people are beggars. Because they know their poverty, their liturgy becomes the praise of that One who gives them everything. Liturgy succeeds when those who celebrate realize that they have been pushed beyond themselves..." (p. 20)

No promises, but perhaps a full-fledged review will follow. (Although considering I have two different journals waiting on reviews from me - Clive Marsh's Theology Goes to the Movies and John Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct? - don't hold your breath!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


"The only alternative to tradition is bad tradition."

~Jaroslav Pelikan, 2003

"The Need for Creeds" (Radio interview), Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett
[American Public Media]

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What to do?

It came to my attention yesterday that our local United Methodist minister has an interesting predicament he is dealing with in the life of his church. He has been asked to serve communion to a dying parishioner, but there is a catch, and he is wondering what to do. Here is the scenario:

Mrs. Jones (not real name) is dying of cancer. She is in the hospital just surviving. Her cancer happens to be in the Trachea and has spread throughout her internal organs. As a result, she cannot swallow anything, liquid or solid. Therefore, she is being nourished through a tube that goes directly into her stomach. I am not sure, at this point, if anything slightly solid can go through the tube. I am guessing only liquid can be fed into this tube. She is close to death, and she has asked her Pastor for one last participation in the Lord's Supper. She cannot swallow, and only liquid can be placed in her feeding tube. What is the Pastor to do?

Brannon and I spoke a little while about this yesterday, but I would like to get input from all of you. If you were this pastor, and we all could very well be there one day, what do you do?

Peace to All,

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Holiness...our watchword and SONG..."?

This morning my dad and I drove the hour or so from Xenia, Ohio, where I serve as worship pastor of a mid-sized Nazarene church, to Circleville, Ohio. The purpose of this pilgrimage (and my father's trip from Tennessee to Ohio) was the Holiness Summit being held on the campus of Ohio Christian University. I don't have much time to offer a full-fledged review of the proceedings, but something occurred to me that I thought we might bat around while this summit is still in progress. (Who knows, I might end up with several posts out of this thing!)

The few hundred of us gathered, having been led in singing by Nazarene evangelist Gary Bond, were then exhorted, first by Louie Bustle and then by Stan Toler. The theme, of course, was the importance of the message of holiness. As I listened to what was said - and perhaps even more significantly, as I observed those around me - I began to sense that the impulse underlying this summit (and the other one to be held out west in September) was all deriving from a complex of concerns that might be summed up in a statement something like this one: Our doctrinal distinctive of holiness/entire sanctification is becoming increasingly obscured and is in danger of being lost altogether - we must become passionate once again about proclaiming the message of holiness in no vague or uncertain terms.

And as we sang "The Cleansing Wave" (Phoebe Palmer, 1871?), I had a thought that I've had before, but became even more pressing in this context - and I pose it to you as a question: What is the relationship between our holiness preaching and our holiness hymnody? I'm not necessarily asking that we vote on which is more important, although I do believe that how we sing our faith is at least as important, has at least as much shaping influence upon our spirituality, our theology, our conception of God (etc), as the faith as we receive it in the preached word.

To put the question a bit differently, I guess what I'm left wondering is this: Can we revitalize the message of holiness in preaching alone, or does this task demand also a re(dis)covery of holiness songs, or indeed the creation of new holiness songs? I just don't see how the average CCM hit that's soaring to the top of the CCLI charts reinforces the message of holiness that has historically been so central to our tradition - in fact, I see many a song that would contradict this message (were the message being proclaimed). I have yet to discover any contemporary songwriters or composers of church music who give any indication of sharing our theological perspective, which makes it difficult. We (I!) should really be writing this stuff ourselves, for our purposes, but in practice, it's a whole lot easier to just sing the latest Chris Tomlin song than take the effort of creating something new. I hope I'm not confusing the issue, but I guess I remain unconvinced that the real problem is what we're preaching - in fact, I still hear holiness being preached from the pupit. What I don't hear is us singing it very often, if at all.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Baptism...and Regeneration? Or, Baptismal Regeneration?

On the whole, therefore, it is not only lawful and innocent, but meet, right, and our bounden duty, in conformity to the uninterrupted practice of the whole Church of Christ from the earliest ages, to consecrate our children to God by baptism, as the Jewish Church were commanded to do by circumcision.
-- John Wesley, Treatise on Baptism, Nov 11, 1756
It would be foolish of us, I think, to ignore Wesley's entreaty here. That baptism with water is an instituted sacrament of the Church, commanded and instituted by Christ himself in the Scriptures, and that the baptism of infants is certainly not denounced in the Scriptures (even allowing for Wesley's interpretation as above that it is commanded)...this all should be undeniable to us. And that we ignore this in the Church of the Nazarene, continually denying it by the deferral, or even at times complete omission of the Baptism of those infants who are dedicated, seems to at least indicate that we have fallen from the path of our specific tradition. Whether the particular, and I would say increasing, practice of dedication without Baptism (even later in one's life) is a fall from the larger catholic (small "c") tradition is, I think, simply irrefutable.

I do have some issues of course with some of Wesley's historical conclusions (as I expressed in comments on a couple of Rev. Todd Stepp's posts) -- particularly with his generalizing view on the "universal" nature of the practice of infant baptism in the early church. But, I think that we can continue to wrestle with Wesley on these issues without compromising agreement with his above sentiment. In other words, I think we can baptize our babies in faith -- on their behalf! -- that the Holy Spirit is truly falling upon this little one because though we continually find ourselves to be faithless, God is nonetheless and steadfastly faithful.

I think you are right, Brannon, to really focus in the issue on "regeneration" -- on just what kind of "new birth" happens in Baptism (and how that's related to the regeneration in the Spirit on which Wesley hangs so much). This seems to me to be the crux of the matter (and particularly how this also relates to original sin for Wesley -- recall that Wesley's longest, "systematic," theological treatise was on Original Sin). I'm not so certain that the "confusion" Pastor Steven has referenced isn't at least somewhat attributable to Wesley on exactly this point, though. I know I've harped in the past on here that we shouldn't just accept Wesley prima facie, and so I want to be very careful that I not either, on the one hand, blindly defer to Wesley's authority simply because he's...well, our spiritual forefather, or on the other hand, let that push me too far into a revisionist mode (and I'm certainly not accusing anyone else of this -- this is all for myself).

No doubt Wesley would want to distance himself from the dichotomy presented in the title to this post. He would want to say that the entire early Christian witness described baptism as a "regeneration," a "new birth"; so, Baptism and regeneration aren't to be strictly divided (and he certainly rejects this in the case of infants -- who were the prime recipients of Baptism in the Church of England in Wesley's day). Nevertheless, he would also reject that baptismal regeneration is "guaranteed" in the "outward" washing of Baptism. In the case of adult baptisms, Wesley will even go so far as to say, "But whatever be the case with infants, it is sure all of riper years who are baptized are not at the same time born again" ("The New Birth," my emphasis). But, as I read this, this seems to present an ambiguity in Wesley's thoughts on Baptism and regeneration -- perhaps even an aporia. I'm pretty convinced that the Pietist influence on Wesley -- particularly that of Philip Jacob Spener -- and specifically the need for a distinct "conversion experience" separate from Baptism -- is the real culprit of this ambiguity. Clearly, Wesley was wrestling with both (a) those who exhibited all sorts of sinfulness and wickedness after having been baptized; and (b) those who claimed there was no new birth but in Baptism (and this was a specific problem for Wesley precisely because of (a)).

As his thoughts on sanctification begin to develop -- which stressed more and more that sanctification was a process of regeneration, leading one from being but a "babe" in Christ to a "mature" adult (based on 1 John) -- he seems to have distanced himself more and more from the more "ecclesiastical" CoE definition of regeneration as the new birth by the Spirit, which takes place in Baptism (Gayle Carlton Felton doesn't buy this argument, but I am equally unconvinced by her counter-arguments that Wesley is completely consistent on these points). I would say this is a prime reason for his rejection of the Augustinian understanding of the efficacy of the sacrament as ex opere operato. I have already stressed my objections to Wesley's rejection of Augustine on this point over at Todd's site (I think in the comments to post number IV).

Now, I certainly understand why Wesley comes to such a conclusion: again, it is decidedly a result of backsliders who, though baptized, continued along paths of awful sinfulness and wickedness. In his sermon, "The Marks of the New Birth," Wesley makes this clear:
Say not then in your heart, 'I was once baptized, therefore I am now a child of God.' Alas, that consequence will by no means hold. How many are the baptized gluttons and drunkards, the baptized liars and common swearers, the baptized railers and evil-speakers, the baptized whoremongers, thieves, extortioners?...For ye are now dead in trespasses and sins. To say, then, that ye cannot be born again, that there is no new birth but in baptism, is to seal you all under damnation, to consign you to hell, without help, without hope.
Recall that Spener also believed that regeneration did in fact take place in Baptism, but that because of backsliding, a "second regeneration" (later to be called by nearly all Pietists, "conversion") was necessary (could this not also be a contributor to 19th century American Holiness interpretations of Wesley on the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" as the so-called "second work of grace"?).

I really tend to think that Wesley holds to something very close to Spener here. But, I really must ask: Is it, first of all, Scripturally warranted to talk about two "new births" -- first in Baptism, and then some "second" experience (Bernard Holland will actually use the language of "a new atonement"!)? But, secondly, why even continue to baptize if there is another new birth required?

Now, Wesley has come up with some (fairly) good answers to these questions -- especially insofar as his account of Christian perfection, or sanctification, is a dynamic process (rather than a sort of "once-for-all" fix or something). First of all, as Brannon has already hinted, Wesley says that Baptism effects "the washing away of the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits of Christ's death" (Treatise on Baptism, II.1). A very Augustinian answer. This applies equally to infants, Wesley says (holding to an Augustinian view of the "propagation" of original sin, over against the "imitation" view held by Pelagius and the Pelagians). But, Wesley's developing views on sanctification were already demonstrating that the washing away of the guilt of original sin is not at the same time the washing away or cancellation of "actual" sins. So, Wesley will say that infants still need the washing away of the guilt of original sin -- since they find themselves condemned under the Fall of Adam -- but because they not only can but most often will fall into all kinds of actual sins (and perhaps "long continued wickedness"), a regeneration -- akin to Pietist and Moravian "conversion" -- is necessary for their spiritual development once they become adults.

So, technically, Wesley would say, there are not two new births, but merely one, which takes place on what Melvin Dieter calls a "continuum" or process or development of sanctification (I would find this to be pretty tricky, though). And we continue to baptize because Baptism washes away the guilt of original sin (but also as a sign of the covenant/promise that God has made with us in his Son Jesus Christ, and the by the power of the Spirit). While I also have pretty big reservations along with Brannon as to the guilt incurred simply from being born (the implication of Augustine's propagation theory of original sin -- though I think it's still better than Pealgius' view to the contrary!) -- Wesley does have Scripture on his side here. And this is really strange to me. Wesley talks about Baptism as "regeneration" almost all across the board, but rarely does he use the actual pervasive New Testament language: the "remission of sins" (there is of course nothing about "original sin," and certainly nothing about the "guilt" incurred because of such original sin). So, to repeat Brannon's question in a somewhat different way: If Baptism is for the remission of sins, first of all, how can one properly describe infants as sinful and in need of the removal of such? (we have seen Wesley's answer -- even if an unsatisfying one); but, also, if one must "repent and believe," or "confess" one's sins in order to receive such remission, then how could infants be baptized, having neither the capacity for repentance or belief? Wesley's answer is simply that this didn't stop Jews from circumcising their infants! But, if the Baptism of adults hardly ever results, according to Wesley, in "new birth" (even though it does in infants -- but, note: it is almost always completely obliterated by the "age" of "actual sin" -- usually nine or ten), then what exactly is it for in infants? In other words, why would the baptismal covenant be so disparate between infants and adults? Is it not the same covenant?

I think I find myself here finally departing -- or at least taking one big step away from -- Wesley. The early Christian answer to that last question, How could infants be baptized without the faith necessary for repentance? is really quite simple -- and it is actually behind Wesley's own answer (though unwittingly, I think): the faith of the (god)parents/sponsors and the community literally stands in for, makes up for the lack of faith on the part of infants. This seems to be the way to answer how infants could be circumcised without repentance as well. But, this is a point I think that really has to be taken seriously. There is something about Baptism itself, the early Christians believed, that offers the grace of salvation to the one being baptized, that one was truly freed from the sinful situation one found oneself in (within the context of a "believing community" -- central to the early Christian rite was the learning and reciting of the Creed). The problem of backsliding doesn't take away from that gift, though. St. Paul faced a similar situation as Wesley when writing to the Romans (in rhetorical mode of course, as usual)...after describing in chapter 5 how grace has abounded all the more than sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he then asks, "What then shall we say? Shall we remain in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? For do you not know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been buried with him in his death?" (sorry if I botched that -- it's from memory). Because Baptism in fact does engraft us into the very death of Christ so that we might "walk in the newness of life" of his resurrection, we should then live like it.

But, isn't this really just what Wesley wants to say about "regeneration," "new birth" (in the sense of a conversion experience)? If you were baptized, Wesley asks in "The New Birth," then why do you now live like this? But, see, Wesley thinks that because such "backsliding" has taken place, the baptismal regeneration has been washed away. Bernard Holland puts it in striking terms: "the baptismal covenant is so irretrievably broken by actual sin that it requires not renewal but complete remaking: and this remaking he looked for in adult regeneration." St. Paul says nothing of the sort, though. Paul tells us: because Baptism has initiated you into a new life (which is the rhythm of the Eucharist -- something Wesley omits from discussion of Baptism!), you should stop acting as though you have not been baptized. But, the grace granted by the Holy Spirit is not "irretrievably broken" because one falls back into sin. Paul is reminding us that Baptism initiates us into something, that we are completely dispossessed of our "old humanity [anthropos]" and given over to the new life of the body of Christ in the weekly rhythms of sending and gathering together at the table of the Lord's Supper. Infants are invited into this new life because the "unity" that takes place at the table is cosmic in nature, it appropriates the redemption of the entire creation, anticipating the great messianic feast to come. Thus, the faith of the church makes up for this little one, because remembering their own baptism in the consecration of the infant is a remembering of the extent and scope of God's grace, mercy, and love...in hope and expectation. This is far too long. I gotta shut up now.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Infant Baptism for (Wesleyan-Holiness) Dummies: Extending the Conversation

[1] The context for this post is Rev. Dr. Todd Stepp's fourth entry in a series of posts on infant baptism. If you really want to make sense of my thoughts here, please read his post and the comment thread, and heck, while you're at it read the first three posts, too. (part I, part II, part III). I was trying to formulate a response, which began to consist mostly of my working through a series of questions for my own edification, and as my entry grew and grew, I realized it would be in very bad form, blogospherically-speaking, for me to hi-jack his thread with my musings and pontifications. So, they shall henceforth constitute a new post here (where I can get away with it). These are really just some jumbled thoughts after reading his post - all of his posts, really - and reading some of the discussion already underway. So - seriously - if you don't take the time to get the context, this might not mean much. Or it still might - who knows? But as many of you know, I do always love a good back-and-forth about infant baptism, so here we go!

[2] First, let's all agree to stop dividing up grace. It's all grace. GRACE GRACE GRACE. I have honestly never seen the value in trying to make sense of the sheer madness and prodigality of God's grace by diagramming it into regenerating, justifying, sanctifying, etc...and I know that makes me a bad Nazarene, but I don't care. (Your thoughts? When we young whipper-snappers have our chance to rewrite the Manual, do you think we'll change all that stuff - if indeed it survives even that long?)

[3] Also, I think something needs to be said about original sin in any discussion of baptism, especially of the infant variety. If we follow many of the church fathers, perhaps St. Augustine most of all, we regard every child born as inheriting the guilt of Adam's Fall (the original sin). In this view, it is legitimate to say that in baptism, a child is "born again" or cleansed of any guilt of or responsibility for original sin. We all still, as children of Adam, suffer under the effects of the Fall - we get tired, hungry, ill, we will die one day - but we do not bear the "spiritual" weight of Adam's sin (if I can put it like that). So, a distinction must be drawn, then, between original sin (Adam's sin) and the carnal nature (or depravity or however you want to term it). That proneness to wander, that tendency toward self-sovereignty, is still with us, and it must be dealt with - it's ultimately either going to be God or Me on the throne. By the grace of God and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, I can be free from this love of self, and be filled with love for God and for my fellow creatures - this is what we call sanctification.

[4] Now, here's where things get murky for me...if we reject the notion that every generation since Adam has been held guilty - by God! - of Adam's original sin (because let's face it, that's not a God that any of us wants to believe in or worship - one who would damn us to hell just for being born an offspring of Adam!), then do we still have grounds for the idea that infants are "born again" in baptism? Is there not, as has been discussed, a grace already extended to us all, independent of any application of water? And if this new birth by water isn't "necessary" in the grand equation of our redemption to alleviate the guilt of original sin, well, why bother in the first instance? "Because Jesus said so," I know, I know - but that's why some evangelical denominations call baptism and the Lord's Supper not 'sacraments' but 'ordinances' - not because they "mean" anything or impart any grace in the life of the believer, but just because Jesus commanded us to "do this..." And I'm really not satisfied with that!

[5] So where does that leave us? I'm with Flannery O'Connor when it comes to the sacraments in general: "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it." Either baptism (or indeed the Eucharist) is an essential part of God's redemptive process, or it isn't. If it isn't, well then, we might as well dispense with it altogether, save perhaps some nostalgia for a more primitive form of Christianity. But if it IS - wow...if the sacrament(s) truly are means whereby God imparts grace to a human life...well, shouldn't we want that grace, whatever it's "function," in whatever modality we might receive it, to be all over not only ourselves but even the youngest born into the Body of Christ?

[6] It seems to me that much of our problem stems from placing the emphasis on the individual's experience of baptism - what am I doing when I present myself for baptism? (i.e. public declaration of an inward transformation already effected, or whatever) - rather than on what God is doing in baptism (i.e. conveying His lavish grace on us). This preoccupation with the individual is why many in our denomination can't accept infant baptism: "you're taking away that child's choice about whether or not they want to be baptised! (me: you're darn right I am!)...they won't even remember it! (me: they will if we tell them about it)...it doesn't mean anything, because they can't understand it (me: God help us all if a condition of grace is our ability to comprehend it.)..." But in all these things, the emphasis is on the individual, not on God.

[7] What does God want? What is His dream for humanity? To save us; to fill us with His Spirit; to pour His love all over us; to have intimate and eternal communion with us. How does He accomplish this? Well, lots of ways, but there is certainly a biblical as well as a historical and theological basis for the belief that one sure-fire and time-honored way He accomplishes this is through water baptism (it was in Jesus' own baptism by John in the Jordan, after all, that God's Spirit in-dwelt him and kick-started his earthly ministry). So, do you think we should perhaps follow Jesus' own example and seek the outpouring of God's grace - even the outpouring of God's Spirit! - in water baptism? Absolutely. (We just might get more than we bargained for!)

[8] So maybe this distinction between the new birth "by water" and the new birth "by the Spirit" might be useful (I'm still wrestling through this one, so forgive me here...). Can an infant be reborn by the Spirit, or does there have to be some kind of personal "receptivity" for the Spirit's outpouring to be efficacious? I'm not sure. On one level, who among us is more "receptive" than an infant - they can't do ANYTHING for themselves. All they ARE is receptive, to whatever those who care for them wish to do! (There might be something to that...it might also have a connection to Jesus' statement about how if you want to enter the Kingdom, you must do so like a child...) Now, on the other hand, if an infant CAN'T be reborn of the Spirit (so, of water: yes...but not of the Spirit), well then why did an Anglican priest say at my son's baptism 10 months ago, as he made the sign of the cross in oil on my son's forehead, "Andrew, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever"?? (Honestly, I don't know how you could get ANYTHING other than baptismal regeneration out of that!) Does my son still need to come to understand and accept for himself the grace that has been imparted to his life in baptism, and take for himself the vows that parents and godparents took on his behalf in his baptism? Absolutely! (and here insert plug for strong catechesis and the importance of some kind of public ritual for confirmation or the reaffirmation of baptismal vows - maybe then we can, for the love of God, stop re-baptizing people!) Do these words spoken in this sacramental rite mean that my son is powerless to reject the grace of God? Is this some kind of thinly veiled eternal security? Absolutely not. He retains his free will to put self back on the throne, just as we all do. But can I be confident and safely say that, by virtue of Andrew's baptism, God is already working in his young life in a special way - a way unique to those who have been subjected to infant baptism? Without a doubt. Just try and convince me otherwise.

[9] Maybe we could conceive of it like this (and I make no claim for whether this is helpful or not): when an infant is baptised, he is reborn of water...this is nothing less than salvation: justification, regeneration, and adoption all rolled into one (remember, "sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever"!). When that child matures to an age when he can on some level respond to the love of God - when he "accepts Jesus" - thus begins the process of sanctification, which might be described as "entire sanctification" when that individual experiences the new birth in (or baptism of, or filling with) the Spirit. Then, growth in grace toward a mature character, etc, etc.

[10] Now, when a child is not baptised in infancy, but grows to a point of maturity later in life (any time after that ambiguous "age of accountability" we're so fond of talking about), it is possible that this individual may have an encounter with Jesus and receive "salvation" (justification, regeneration and adoption), prior to being baptised. This moment of salvation, as when the baptised infant "accepts Jesus," also begins for this individual the process of sanctification , which may or may not lead to what the individual would describe as a "crisis moment" but WILL, we expect, reach a moment of receiving the new birth of the Spirit, and that sanctification process will reach an entirety or completeness never before known to that individual. [This paragraph has been edited for clarity.]

[11] It is possible that this, too, might occur prior to water baptism. But still the injunction stands that one must be born of water and the Spirit - and so we pray that this individual is part of a Christian Body that is faithful to administer water baptism to all who profess faith in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord. Because let's face it - you can't argue with scripture, and scripture says "water and the Spirit" - so, in the end, if they remain unbaptised, the only way this "saved and sanctified" person is going to make it into the Kingdom is (and now we've come full-circle) by the grace of God alone.

[11] So is water baptism necessary to salvation? Well, no. But yes. I mean, yes it is necessary - absolutely necessary, for every single person. But then again, no: I really believe God will not condemn or turn away one who knows Jesus as savior and has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, but who was unfortunate enough to have been part of a Christian Body who has not faithfully heeded Jesus' commission to "go and make disciples...baptising them"!!! Here I fault the church (not the big-C Church, the Church catholic, but the little-c church, the church in it's often messed-up, often broken locality - although Hauerwas and others might be quick to remind me that the only Church there is is the church in it's messed-up, broken locality), and we should give thanks for a gracious God, who loves and accepts us even when the Church blows it for us. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Double Entendre

First off, I want to say thanks to all of you, especially David Belcher, who have kept this little flicker of a blog from going out altogether. I am encouraged by the interest this blog continues to generate within our little corner of the denomination, and what's more, I keep meeting people who affirm my instincts that there is indeed a move toward, a need for, and certainly room for these kinds of conversations about liturgy and sacrament - the theology of our practice(s), and the practice of our theology.

Second, a quick update on me - Gloria and Andrew (who, good grief, is about to be ONE!) and I moved to the bustling metropolis (sarcasm drips) of Xenia, OH in early December. I joined the staff of Xenia Naz (officially First Church of the Nazarene) as Worship Pastor - although my role and job title has generated some discussion about whether I am or should be simply the "Worship Pastor," or the "Music Pastor," the "Worship and Music Pastor," or the "Worship and Arts Pastor" (the latter seems to be the trend right now, which makes me suspicious of it). I only half-jokingly suggested that I'd prefer "Liturgist" or perhaps "Work of the People Pastor" (a moniker borrowed from Pastor Brian Niece), but (big surprise) that didn't fly. Things are going well. It's a fantastic church, and we have a great pastoral team (sr. pastor and 4 full-time associates - worship, children, youth, and young adult - plus part-time sr. adult pastor and "outreach" pastor) that seems to really share a common vision for our ministry to this small, largely blue-collar/agricultural community 20 miles east of Dayton. We all have very different styles and personalities and approaches, but it's a good kind of diversity that thus far seems to work.

I've come into a situation musically that is a bit interesting: my predecessor, who is a long-time friend and former mentor (he was my TN district Impact director when I was in 10th grade), was here for about 10 years, and really took the church from singing very traditional holiness/campmeeting-style music out of the hymnal to singing mostly contemporary praise and worship music using video screens, a full band and praise team, etc, etc...you know the "progression" (if it indeed should be called that). Although we have 2 services, they have managed to avoid having a traditional vs. contemporary service paradigm - we do what is for the most part the same service twice. I'm getting a crash course in all the trendy songs from the past couple of years, which I missed while I was off singing centuries-old sacred music at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland. Some are really okay; a few a great, and I love leading them; a few are terrible and should never have been passed off as "worship music" - a phrase that, I realize, more and more sounds like a redundancy to the younger generation..."Worship IS music, isn't it?" (Uh....no.)

But as most of you would know, or at least assume, I'm not willing to give up our hymnody. So what we're doing right now is probably what most folks would label "blended" - a label I'm not crazy about, because in my experience, most churches that call their worship blended aren't doing any of it, contemporary or traditional, very well. It's kind of a lowest-common-denominator approach in some cases - "we'll do some hymns, but we'll do them upbeat, and we'll do contemporary stuff, but nothing TOO rockin'..." which in practice doesn't often do justice to either the traditional or the contemporary. Or else it's a all-things-to-all-people kind of approach in other cases - "well, we have to make sure we have something for everybody..." which often leads to a kind of stylistic incoherence, I've found. I take it as a compliment when people tell me they appreciate the "blend" (although I like it better when they say "variety" or "diversity," but that's just semantics to most people - I, on the other hand, care about the words people use). It's been an adjustment for everybody - those who have been involved in the music program under the previous pastor are having to get used to singing more hymns, and I am continually amazed when I want to do something like "The Love of God" or "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" and about half of my band and praise team confess that they've never heard it. And I am getting used to putting a few ultra-current songs into the mix (anything older than about (c) 2004 is perceived as being a little dated by some of my folks), as well as resigning myself to the fact that we'll probably never sing the Magnificat or the Nunc Dimittis or Adoro Te Devote, at least in our regular Sunday worship services. (I did try to sing the Lenten Prose with my choir at our rehearsal on Ash Wednesday, and they cooperated but I don't think many were eager to do it every week.) But these are not complaints - it's a great church and a great place to serve, and like every church, it simply presents a unique set of circumstances and challenges.

Also, we bought our first house in the area, about 3 miles from the church - cycling distance once the weather's better (we were under 14 inches of snow this past weekend). We're near enough to both Dayton and Cincinnati that we don't feel starved for the kinds of cultural events that larger cities provide, but we're enjoying the small-town vibe for now. We're also about 7 miles from an even smaller community - Dave Chapelle fans might be familiar with it - called Yellow Springs, which in this very conservative area is a weird little haven of artists, free-thinkers, LGBTs, and liberals of all sorts. So whenever we want to attend a poetry reading, or visit a coffee shop with some folkie strumming live music in the corner, or shop for beaded jewelry or new age books, or, I dunno, attend a peace rally or hug a gay person, we go to Yellow Springs. We're glad we bought in Xenia, since that's where we're ministering, but knowing Yellow Springs is right there keeps us sane at times. It's also home to a family-owned dairy that makes amazing ice cream and a great little pizza joint called "Ha-Ha Pizza" which I'm guessing is a hit with the local "herb heads."

Anyway, that's four times more update than I intended to give. I have choir rehearsal in just over an hour - frantic preparations for our Easter musical. It's my first time directing anything this full-scale, with choir, live band, actors, lots of tech and mulit-media, etc. A bit overwhelming, but it's not as "big" as it probably could be, and I think it'll come off fine.

Now, to finally refer to the title of this post ("double entendre"), I was initially inspired to post my first blog in months by an ad I received at the church (you'd be disgusted by how much junk mail and promotional stuff I receive each week) from our denominational music publishing house. Nazarene Publishing House/Lillenas are now pushing a new brand-image called Comsuming Worship. I just wondered if they aware of any hint of irony about this name. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Grace is a Person

Dr. Noble said something the other day that I found to be profound--simple, and very Protestant (or perhaps Evangelical), but profound nonetheless:

Grace is not something, when properly understood, but someone, the person of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we could submit that all of the recent focus on the graced nature of creation can only be properly understood when situated in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the very embodiment of grace, and thus within the graced nature of redemption. This would disrupt our modern tendency to think only chronologically--in terms of a kind of gradual "progress." In this sense, all of history--creation itself--can only be understood, can only be known, from out of Jesus Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and promise to come again. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Doctrine of Christian Holiness

This blog has endured a rather extended period of suspension--a lot has been happenning: we had a new baby girl enter our own family, and I know that Brannon and his family have moved from one continent to another over the last few months (while he has taken up a new job and is finishing his dissertation!)...so I can only offer my own apologies for my absence.

I'm taking a class this semester, however, on the doctrine of holiness (with Nazarene Scottish professor Tom Noble), so I plan on posting some reflections/observations from class every once in a while here (I'll also be taking a class with Paul Bassett on Arminius, so I might be able to offer some gems from that class as well!). I hope some of you will still be interested in participating in discussion of what has become not simply the "central doctrine" for the Church of the Nazarene, but has begun to define our very identity--and thus the beginnings of a potential rift are already forming (since inevitably the necessity to form an identity for ourselves is motivated by some kind of claim, some kind of possession...and I think we all know how possession begets competition, and competition division).

A principle focus of the historical development of the doctrine of Christian holiness--as in Paul Bassett's work in Exploring Christian Holiness: Volume 2--is the early linking of "perfection" with "sanctification" that is later severed, starting with Augustine, and culminating in the medieval period with Gregory the Great.

For now, I just wanted to ask if you thought this a convincing conclusion--that a decline in the understanding of "Christian perfection" or "Christian sanctification" enters when we separate these two--and why might that be? Two things seem to be going on here, for Bassett (who relies heavily on Harnack's history, I should add (even if he doesn't accept everything Harnack says prima facie)--this is not insignificant): 1) Perfection is transformed into an "ideal," an aim, rather than a norm of Christian life (which meaning enters due to the "falling away" of the use of the term "sanctification"...in other words, that "perfection" enters into a state of disrepute without the irrupting transformative notion of sanctification in this life); and 2) the Church's role in one's perfection is increased to the extent of making the grace necessary for such perfection more "optimistic." What do you think?